Facades of public buildings to go dark as energy crisis reality starts to bite

Government moves to contain energy costs and reduce air-conditioning as well as heating intensity to save on rising price of gas, with public sector guidelines to ‘switch off at night’

Decorative façade lighting on public buildings and monuments will be switched off late at night as government moves to contain energy costs, MaltaToday is informed. 

Also, public sector offices, excluding hospitals, are to keep air conditioning at a minimum of 24° Celsius in cooling mode, and 21° Celsius or lower in heating mode. 

The energy saving measures form part of guidelines issued to public sector workers by the Energy Ministry and the Office of the Principal Permanent Secretary last week. 

The move comes in the wake of Europe’s energy crisis as a result of the Ukraine war and EU sanctions against Russia. 

But while European consumers are being urged to cut down on consumption by their governments, in Malta the energy saving measures have so far been limited to the public sector.  

“The government is introducing energy saving guidelines for the public sector, to contain energy costs and mitigate the impacts of the ongoing climate and energy emergencies,” a spokesperson for the Energy Ministry told MaltaToday. 

Apart from measures targeting more efficient use of air conditioning in public offices, the recommendations target decorative façade lighting of public buildings and monuments, which will be switched off for “a few hours late at night, excluding security lighting”. 

The spokesperson said the new guidelines also recommend switching off idle appliances such as laptop chargers and water coolers, as well as the replacement of old lighting and other electrical systems with low energy solutions.  

Europeans have had to bear the brunt of natural gas shortages and high prices after Russia reduced pipeline gas supply to EU countries in retaliation to sanctions. 

Although Malta does not import gas directly from Russia, the price of electricity bought from mainland Europe through the interconnector has shot up immensely. Maltese consumers have not felt the brunt of higher electricity costs because government has been subsidising energy and fuel, an outlay that is expected to substantially surpass the €200 million cushion Finance Minister Clyde Caruana set aside in the last budget at a time when the Ukraine war was not yet on the horizon. 

Last month, Malta successfully negotiated an exemption from the EU’s 15% mandatory gas reduction target, which can be triggered anytime this winter in response to supply disruptions caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

However, despite this exemption, as international fuel and electricity prices continue to rise, the government is embarking on effective energy saving measures to mitigate the higher cost on public coffers. 

In reply to MaltaToday questions, the Energy Ministry insisted though that the energy saving measures for the public sector are not simply responding to the pressures of the international gas supply shortages. 

“We want everyone to embrace responsible energy consumption, as we work to ease the impact of the current high electricity production costs.  

More importantly, the public sector is leading by example and encouraging everyone to focus on our environmental targets and the attainment of our long-term decarbonisation obligations. We also note that the private sector is also embarking on similar actions through different ESG commitments,” the spokesperson said. 

She added that any move towards increased energy efficiency by the government, businesses and at home will have a “multitude of benefits for all”, including a lower carbon footprint, improved air quality, affordable energy costs and increased economic competitiveness.  

“It all leads to a more sustainable future,” the ministry said. 

Europe’s cities have been going dark at night as authorities try to save on electricity consumption. Countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, Ireland, France and Germany have al-ready embarked on a series of measures to reduce their consumption, including turning off hot water in the showers and bathrooms of city-run buildings and leisure centres. 

Spain has passed a law to bring services like banks, public transport, shops, bars and restaurants in line with the measures already imposed in administration buildings, including air conditioning systems at a limit of 27° Celsius on cooling and heating below 19° Celsius.